The main goal of almost every strength training program is to help the individual push harder, jump higher, throw further, or simply to be stronger. To achieve these goals one must attain an important quality, which is power. One of the most effective training regimes that focus on power are plyometrics.
What is Plyometric Training?
Unlike regular strength programs that involve long and slow repetitions that are designed to improve muscular development and strength, plyometric training consists of fast and explosive movements that will boost speed and power. This can be accomplished through multiple exercises that focus on training our body and brain in a way that it activates more muscle fibers, more efficiently, in order to increase the effectiveness and speed of our muscle contractions. This will ultimately lead to increased power. Before we dive into the plyometric benefits, we need to cover something called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), a base of the plyometric training.
The SSC can be explained as a dynamic movement where muscles are first stretched eccentrically (muscle lengthening), before they contract concentrically (muscle shortening). For instance, if you perform a dip before a vertical jump movement, your center of mass will be lowered faster and in so doing your muscles are going to be stretched. Any muscle tissue that is stretched before a concentric contraction will always contract with more speed and force.
A simple example is take your hand and place it on a table or desk. Lift your middle finger away from the table or desk. Then let go, it should quickly snap back to the table like a sling shot. This eccentric-concentric mix is referred to as the SSC, and combined it produces a more powerful contraction than the one where resting intervals are incorporated from a purely concentric action alone.
All of this sounds fine, but what are the benefits that we can expect from training in such a way?
Benefits of Plyometric Training
Enhances fast-twitch fibers in the muscle tissue
As mentioned, the main goal of plyometric training is to increase muscle contraction properly, which essentially means that the end result of plyometric exercises is power. Having a high level of physical power is clearly desirable in athletics, but in order for us to increase the power we need to increase and strengthen our muscle fibers that are responsible for transmitting strength into speed. These fibers are called fast-twitch fibers, and plyometric training can strengthen them and actually increase the ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers in the body. The stronger our fast-twitch fibers get, the faster the muscle contraction will be. Or think of the nervous system sending faster signals to our muscles. Faster signals means faster movements which ultimately leads to an increase in power and force output.
Reduced risk of injuries, and increased strength of tendons
Since we mentioned that plyometrics increase our physical power, a byproduct of this process are also stronger tendons. And with stronger tendons we are much less likely to suffer from any injuries. Plyometric training strengthens our tendons by putting stress on them, which leads to their improved elasticity and strength. Finally if you can improve force production think about the ability to stop your body as well. When jumping you get higher ups but also your body adapts to stopping or putting on the breaks.
Increased efficiency of the neuromuscular system
During the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) a rapid stretching of the muscle spindles occur. When this happens, a signal is sent from our brain to the muscles via the neuromuscular system. The more effective our neuromuscular system transmits this signal, the faster we can contract and relax the muscles, which in turn boosts speed and power. Plyometrics improve the capability of this system.
Improved performance in other physical activities
All of the previous benefits of plyometric training listed above had made this form of exercising an appealing addition for many athletes, especially for those who indulge in sports that require explosive movements. A good example would be Olympic Weightlighting. This sport requires its participants to move really heavy weights as fast as they can, placing a lot of strain on the tendons, and a lot of power from their muscles in general. Plyometric training is the perfect program for these types of athletes.
Plyometric Exercises and How to Perform Them
1 Depth Jumps
This form of exercise uses gravity and the athlete’s weight, in order to increase the needed intensity. The starting position is on the box, step or hop off, land, and immediately jump vertically, horizontally, or on to another box. These box jumps can be performed with one or both legs. The height of the box depends on the athlete’s goal and his capabilities. With time, you will become stronger and faster so you will be able to use higher boxes and obstacles.